Double Standards in Refugee Treatment

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By Iman Ahsan

With the recent Russian invasion in Ukraine, people flocked to the streets to show their support for Ukraine. In the twelve days Russia has begun its invasion, more than two million Ukrainians fled their country and were given refuge in numerous countries such as Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia. 

Several countries are condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with the United States placing a ban on Russian oil and gas in attempts to isolate Russia. News channels have been covering the Ukraine crisis nonstop, and news reporters expressed their outrage in response to the war. 

On BBC news, Ukraine’s deputy chief prosecutor David Sakvarelidze tearfully said, “It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed.”

Similarly, when a correspondent on NBC news was asked about the change in Poland since the last refugee crisis in 2015, a time where the country had initially been hesitant to accept refugees, the correspondent sorrowfully replied, “Just to put it bluntly, these are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from neighboring Ukraine. That, quite frankly, is part of it. These are Christians, they are white, they’re… um… very similar to the people that live in Poland.”

These are just a few examples of the many racist coverage that has been done of Ukraine. From hearing these statements, it’s pretty obvious that people from the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia aren’t viewed as “civilized” or worthy of “help.” 

While these reporters have been condemned on social media for their statements, this doesn’t change the fact that there is a huge double standard with the media’s coverage of Ukraine as opposed to the media coverage of the Middle East, Africa, and Asia conflict zones. While Ukrainian refugees are being welcomed with open arms by countless European countries, this cannot be said the same for the Middle Eastern and African refugees who were refused refuge by numerous countries. 

Back in 2015 during the Syrian refugee crisis, migrants were kept in atrocious conditions at detention centers in Roszke, Hungary. There’s news footage that shows hundreds of migrants cramped together in camps, as if they were cattle in pens, and the migrants can be seen trying to catch the bags of food thrown at them by the police. Migrants were being treated like animals and lacked proper medical care and food. 

On the contrary, with the Ukrainian refugee crisis, Hungary welcomes them with open arms. Groups of Ukrainian migrants are dropped off at a town hall where they’re greeted with hot tea, meat sandwiches, and medical assistance. 

This is rather humorous, considering how rash and strict Hungary’s immigration laws are. Hungary’s opposition to immigration is so intense that in 2018, Hungary enacted a law that threatened jail time for any person who supported the asylum seekers. Moroccan migrant Jalal was crossing over the Hungarian border only to be hit by a vehicle and suffer horrendous injuries back in 2021. As Prime Minister Victor Orban puts it, these migrants are “Muslim invaders” and “all terrorists are basically migrants”.

If all terrorists are “basically migrants”, then that must mean the Ukrainian migrants are also all terrorists, right? Going by Orban’s words, the Ukrainian migrants must also be “Muslim invaders” despite at least 67.3% of the Ukrainian population being Orthodox Christians. Of course, Orban’s words don’t apply to the Ukrainians because they don’t fit the profile of a “terrorist” or a “Muslim invader”. 

The bias between the treatment of Ukrainian refugees and Middle Eastern, African, and Asian refugees is blatantly obvious. There doesn’t even need to be any speculation as to why the Ukrainian refugees are receiving better treatment than black and brown refugees. As Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov says, “These are not the refugees we are used to… these are Europeans. These people are intelligent, they are educated people…”. 

His statement is more than enough to explain the reasoning behind the bias. It’s good that the Ukrainian refugees are being treated with kindness and hospitality, but this kindness and hospitality shouldn’t be limited to a group of people just because of the color of their skin or their ethnicity. 

Furthermore, you’d think that in a time like this, people would get together to help each other flee their country, right? Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in Ukraine. As Ukrainians are boarding the buses to flee their country, Arab, African, and Asian students are kicked off the bus and told to walk to the border in the freezing cold. Not only that, but they’re subjected to racism and inhumane treatment by both the Ukraine police and ordinary citizens. 

Ukrainian refugees are greeted with warmth, food, and shelter. 

Arab, African, and Asian students are greeted with severe beatings by authorities, hunger, and hypothermia. 

The disparity between the treatment of the Ukrainians and the people of color who are both trying to flee a warzone is appalling. No person should be subjected to such inhumane treatment because of the color of their skin. It’s cruel and unjust. 

The sad reality behind this mistreatment of foreign students in Ukraine could be that it may be a few isolated incidents. However, the absence of these stories from the mainstream media shows the double standards in media reportage which strengthens the conspiracy theorists who would like to present the argument that this aggression from a strong country is “justified”. The only way to separate facts from fiction would be if the media is doing a full and unbiased coverage in which it brings light to all the issues arising in this conflict. It just seems the media is only reporting the plight of the Ukrainians without mentioning the effect this war is bringing to other people, more specifically, the people of color. 

A refugee is a person who flees their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disasters. The term refugee isn’t limited to only black and brown people. The “European people with blonde hair and blue eyes”  fleeing their country are refugees. 

Anyone can be a refugee. 

This article isn’t here to bash Ukraine and condone the war; this article is here to point out the double standard in the Ukraine crisis. This is a grim, dark situation for both the Ukrainians and the foreign students, and if we want to progress forward as a society and as a community, then we must first acknowledge the bias shown towards different groups of people because of the color of their skin or their ethnicity.

Until we learn to understand each other, we’re trapped in the endless cycle of ignorance and disunion, bound to repeat our mistakes again.